Foot­dreams and Tree­tales: Nine­ty-Two Poems

Elliot R. Wolf­son; Bar­bara E. Gal­li, fwd.
  • Review
By – March 9, 2012

Wolf­son, a pro­fes­sor of Hebrew and Juda­ic Stud­ies at NYU, and the author of a num­ber of good books on Jew­ish mys­ti­cism and the poet­ic imag­i­na­tion (Lan­guage, Eros, Being: Kab­bal­is­tic Hermeneu­tics and Poet­ic Imag­i­na­tion was the win­ner of the 2005 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Schol­ar­ship) writes in the pref­ace to this col­lec­tion of very short poems that they reflect his inter­est in the mys­ti­cal dimen­sion of Judaism” and oth­er East­ern and West­ern reli­gions. They attempt to artic­u­late, in the words of Baude­laire, the inner voice of the lan­guage of the flow­ers and oth­er unspeak­able things’” — in oth­er words, the inef­fa­ble. One must admire Wolfson’s chutz­pah for try­ing to find the words to express what per­haps can­not, or per­haps should not, be articulated. 

I found many of Wolfson’s poems to be deriv­a­tive and at times even con­trived, main­ly restat­ing cer­tain famil­iar mys­ti­cal” ideas and tropes found in ancient and some mod­ern sacred and sec­u­lar lit­er­a­tures of the world, though not near­ly as thought-pro­vok­ing­ly, mov­ing­ly, or beau­ti­ful­ly. There are a few poems in Wolfson’s col­lec­tion that are explic­it­ly Jew­ish- relat­ed, for exam­ple, Elijah’s cup,” which is arranged on one page in descend­ing order: enter clock/​dating pulse/​limit time/​negating bound/​fiery bush/​glowing down/​endless speech/​without sound/​through other/​in enter/​desire pain/​remember” (slash­es added by reviewer). 

For me, a Freudi­an psy­cho­an­a­lyst, tra­di­tion­al Jew, and poet­ry lover, most of Wolfson’s poems are not par­tic­u­lar­ly illu­mi­nat­ing, uplift­ing, or instruc­tive, though his def­i­n­i­tion of the poem as an open­ing to time, which is, at once, an embrace of life and a prepa­ra­tion for death” is sure­ly a usable truth.

Paul Mar­cus, Ph.D., a psy­cho­an­a­lyst, is the author of Being for the Oth­er: Emmanuel Lev­inas, Eth­i­cal Liv­ing and Psy­cho­analy­sis and In Search of the Good Life: Emmanuel Lev­inas, Psy­cho­analy­sis and the Art of Living.

Discussion Questions